Rosetta, the European Space Agency comet chaser has finally learned its landing site. Rosetta was launched ten years ago by ESA to examine Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This space mission is unprecedented, as Rosetta will deploy Philae, a robotic lander, on the comet. Philae will be the first lander on a comet and will provide invaluable information about the mysterious blocks of ice and mud travelling around the solar system.
Since it was launched in 2004, Rosetta flew near asteroids and Mars, on its way to catch the comet. The space probe entered period of 31 months of hibernation to preserve energy and was waken up earlier this year to get ready for the final stage. Now the European team managing the project finally chose a landing site for Philae. Initially, after Rosetta sent images of the comet as it was approaching it, the team selected five potential landing sites. Now, they decided that Site J will be the site where Philae will land in November. Site J is a provisional name, until the team launches a public naming competition.
Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center said that “None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100 percent level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”
The area not as flat as the team would have liked. Cliffs and boulders may prove to be important obstacle against a safe landing. However, if anything goes wrong, there is another back-up site called Site C. Site J, however, offers an exciting advantage. Once the comet gets closer to the sun, the smaller head of the comet where Site J is may get active, offering a dynamic image of the comet.
“We will make the first ever in situ analysis of a comet at this site, giving us an unparalleled insight into the composition, structure and evolution of a comet,” Jean-Pierre Bibring, a lead lander scientist for the mission, said in a statement. “Site J in particular offers us the chance to analyse pristine material, characterise the properties of the nucleus, and study the processes that drive its activity.”
After the landing site is reviewed later this month and again in October, in November Philae will be deployed. You can never be too careful in a $1.7 billion mission. The complex mobile chemistry lab will use harpoons to attach itself to the comet and start the analyses.